Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

NIETZSCHE: Beyond Good and Evil (Chapter 6: We Scholars)

What’s the difference between science and philosophy? For one thing they ask different questions. Science is concerned with things like: what is the world made out of? How does it work? Philosophy can’t answer these types of questions. Philosophy is concerned with things like: why is there a world in the first place (or, put a different way, why is there something instead of nothing) and how should we live in this world? Science can’t answer these types of questions. Science and philosophy have their separate spheres. We can’t really say that one is more important than the other because they’re two different things. It would be like comparing apples and oranges. What bothers Nietzsche is the increasing importance that science gained in the 19th century. Until then “science” had mostly been a branch of “natural philosophy.” In Nietzsche’s view science has swept the field and usurped the role originally intended for philosophy. He says that “the instinct of the populace cries, “Freedom from all masters!” and after science has, with the happiest results, resisted theology, whose “handmaid” it had been too long, it now proposes in its wantonness and indiscretion to lay down laws for philosophy, and in its turn to play the “master”…”

Nietzsche is always concerned about who will be “the master.” Will it be the scientist or the philosopher? The modern world, in Nietzsche’s view, is bogged down in confusion. Nietzsche believes that “The philosopher has long been mistaken and confused by the multitude, either with the scientific man and ideal scholar, or with the religiously elevated, desensualized, desecularized visionary and God- intoxicated man…” What Nietzsche proposes is a whole new concept of what a philosopher is. According to this new concept “the geniune philosopher—does it not seem so to us, my friends?—lives ‘unphilosophically’ and unwisely,’ above all imprudently, and feels the obligation and burden of a hundred attempts and temptations of life.” Socrates and Aristotle would strongly disagree that a philosopher should live imprudently. How can a man live ‘unphilosophically’ and then turn around and call himself a philosopher? The term Philosopher literally means a lover of wisdom. How can a man live ‘unwisely’ and then turn around and say that he loves wisdom?

Clearly Nietzsche isn’t a traditional philosopher. In the traditional sense he’s not making a lick of sense. But all the same there’s something going on here. Nietzsche detests the idea of people drudging away doing science in a way that de-humanizes them. In some ways he wants to recover the heroic classical notion of what life is all about: life is not about spending hours and hours in a laboratory; it’s about doing things – especially heroic things. Nietzsche says “I insist upon it that people finally cease confounding philosophical workers, and in general scientific men, with philosophers…the real philosopher must be a critic, and dogmatist, and historian, and poet, and collector, and traveler, and riddle-reader, and moralist, and seer, and ‘free spirit,’ and almost everything, in order to traverse the whole range of human values and estimations, so he can see with a variety of eyes and consciences and look from a height to any distance, from a depth up to any height, from a nook into any expanse.” This is a tall order. But it does recapture some of the spirit of the classical Greeks. It’s basically an aristocratic outlook that’s at odds with the democratic modern world view. Nietzsche doesn’t care. The philosopher’s job is to shake things up and Nietzsche sure knows how to do that.


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